A cargo cruise may just be the cheapest way to travel the world

The INSIDER Summary:

• Cargo cruises offer a super cheap way to see the world.
• They’re not as popular or luxurious as regular cruise ships, but they have their charm.
• A voyage costs around $AU150 per day, including lodging and meals.

There’s no climbing wall or karaoke to be found. No uniforms or luxury restaurants. And there are only a handful of passengers. In other words, cargo cruises are a little bit different than your classic cruise ships.

On cargo cruises, passengers join crew members on monstrous container ships that deliver goods to ports across the globe. Aside from being a unique immersive experience, it’s a way to see the world for a fraction of the cost of plane tickets or regular cruises.

Here’s what you need to know before embarking on the open seas in a cargo ship.

To book a cargo cruise, you’ll need to go through an agent that specialises in cargo cruise travel.

There’s a reason you probably haven’t heard of cargo cruises — most travel agents don’t book them. You’ll need to go through an agent that specialises in cargo cruise travel or get in touch with a ship’s manager.

Freighter voyages usually require several months of advance planning, but they rarely have set schedules. Arrivals and departures can depend on how long it takes to load or unload cargo, how busy a port is, and weather conditions. Sometimes, a departure window is given instead of an exact date. Bottom line: flexibility is a must.

It’s cheaper (and cooler) than flying.

Cargo cruises cost somewhere between $AU145 and $AU175 per day (more for high grade cabins, esp if it’s normally a twin share, which includes lodging and three meals a day. Voyages can be as short as a 16 day run from Sydney to Singapore, but usually last between 40 and 50 days, but some people opt for segmented trips that last a few weeks, leaving on a boat, disembarking at a port, and returning home by plane. 

For example, a round trip from the US to Australia lasts about 70 days, or about 31 days one-way and costs $AU4,400, which works out at $143 a day, subject to currency fluctuations. The ships runs from Philadelphia via the Panama Canal to Sydney.

Perhaps the best and most luxurious option is the Aranui, a passenger/freighter vessel which does the loop around French Polynesia in 14 days and has prices to match the cruise ship opulence the 126m vessel, with Aranui 5 103 cabins for up to 254 passengers, offers.

It’s not a luxury liner, but it’s pretty great.

Cargo ships are utilitarian boats. They don’t have stabilizers, but with a big enough ship and a heavy enough load of cargo, you won’t feel the waves. There are also lots of stairs, so hold on to the railings and wear sturdy shoes.

The accommodations are spacious and comfortable, as nice as those on regular cruise ships. And since container ships don’t take more than a dozen passengers, there’s plenty of room to spread out.

You’ll have to keep yourself entertained.

The crew is there to work, not entertain, but everyone on the ship eats meals together, which gives you plenty of great opportunities to chat. There’s no wifi, and phone access is limited to a ship’s single satellite phone, so make sure you come equipped with plenty of books, games, writing materials, knitting projects, or whatever will keep you occupied. There will also be gorgeous views of sunrises, sunsets, and constellations to marvel at. 

Most ships also feature a rec room, bar, and swimming pool. Some even have a sauna and a gym.

Is travelling on a container ship for you? If you’ve got a flexible schedule and a sense of adventure, go for it.

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